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Before getting started, I reckon an introductory statement is due: I admit I am not a big folk metal fan. Apart from Finntroll and a few others, this scene is really far from me and more often than not it sounds uninteresting to my ears.
This being said, over the last year I got to know a band that shook my perception of folk metal: Nine Treasures. Those of you who have been following us for the last year already know I saw them live at the Beijing Midi Festival in May and at the Shanghai one in October, so that I had chance to witness their rise to success. This band from Inner Mongolia (a huge province in Northern China bordering Mongolia) rapidly became the highlight of an quickly-growing scene. Mongolian-influenced music has now become a big phenomenon in the underground (and not only) in China starting from Hanggai, one of the first bands from there to attain some kind of international recognition in the last decade or so.
However, Nine Treasures (九宝 in Chinese) represent a whole new awareness of the potential this current has, but especially an original take on metal that eventually brought them to perform at the 2013 Wacken Open Air. Almost out of nowhere, they emerged with their spectacular work "Arvan Ald Guulin Honshoor" last year and then just worked without a pause until they realeased their second self-released effort in late autumn.
The main traits of this band are the use of tradional Central Asian music instruments (such as the balalaika and the morin khuur, a kind of Mongolian violin) and the lyrics in Mongolian. In addition to this, they definitely know how to behave on stage and their feeling with metal doesn’t sound derivative. Unfortunately, I don't understand Mongolian so I can't say much about the quality of the lyrics, but generally speaking they are about heroic tradition and epic rides through the Mongolian prairies.
Differently from the first work, Nine Treasures managed to explore more areas of their sound given the longer time. The instrumental intro takes us to the vast Mongolian sceneries and then our reckless journey starts, with the vocalist Ashkan singing at full speed already from "黑心" ("Black Heart"). Nine Treasures know their strongpoints well and put them on display, giving some hints of the "heaviness" to come here and there through the album (like in "骏马赞", "Ode To The Steed"). Each instrument has its chance to shine and the "folkization" is not excessive, otherwise the album might have ended up being nothing more than a parade of "mongolerie" lacking the metal aspects of their style.
In short, this is a really effective album, easily one of the best folk metal releases of the last few years. After this, I believe we will see them occupying higher spots at festivals, locally and maybe even on the international stage.